Key information: Highline Trail
- The classic Highline Trail winds through the heart of Wyoming's fabulous Wind River Mountains.
- Superb scenery - the usual but not predictable peaks, cliffs, lakes, rivers and forests. Carved by immense glacial forces. Totally pristine wilderness, with a wide selection of Rockies wildlife.
- This is tough walking in high, remote mountains, on which you will have to be self-sufficient and where altitude can cause problems. Come prepared.
- All suggestions and photos are welcome!
- Walkopedia rating86.5
- Natural interest16.5
- Human interest0
- Negative points1
- Total rating86.5
- Length: 8-10 days
- Maximum Altitude: 3,475m
- Level of Difficulty: Strenuous
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The famous Highline Trail winds, in around 8-10 days of spectacular walking, through the extravagantly beautiful, rough, wild, remote scenery of Wyoming's fabulous Wind River Mountains. A classic route, traversing the range (usually walked from south to north) on good (if mostly unwaymarked) trails: you will need strong backcountry skills. Do allow time for some of the many outstanding diversions that can be made, including the Cirque of the Towers and the Titcomb Basin. (i.e., allow 10 days.)
This is a huge, totally pristine wilderness, with a wide selection of Rockies wildlife (elk, moose, bear, deer, beaver, many birds) and superb granite scenery - the usual but not predictable peaks, cliffs, lakes, rivers and forests. Carved by - you guessed - glacial forces. The landscape varies from the roughest and wildest of rocky highlands surrounded by peaks and cliffs to gorgeous lakes reflecting dramatic formations looming above forest and flowery meadows, to deep forested valleys. Much of the area is above the treeline, although you will spend time in fine forest, too.
North-south fault-lines result in long ranges and ridges, with wide and high "benches" and valley systems running parallel to them, with a multitude of beauteous lakes (more than 1,500) amid crazily eroded rocky scenery. This makes for glorious walking close to the high ridges (which form the Continental Divide). The area is high, with 23 peaks over 13,000ft and quite a lot of time spent over 3,000m (10,000ft).
A key point to appreciate when planning this trek is that there is a wide variety of trails available, which can be used to create the perfect walk and to take time-saving short cuts and to make some essential detours to places such as the Cirque of the Towers and the Titcomb basin, which should not be missed, having come all this way.
The most popular starting points for the Highline are Big Sandy trailhead at the southern end (assumed here) and Green River Bridge in the north, whether you walk northward or southward depends in part on whether you like having the sun on your back or face. From here the path ascends gently to Big Sandy Lake, where you should camp for two nights and make a day trip to Deep Lake Cirque.
Then it is the detour to the famous Cirque of the Towers, with its amazing glacially-gouged semi-circle of fantastically sharp and sheer peaks around above the (sometimes) aptly named Lonesome Lake. The main exit from the cirque is the expedition's highest point, Texas pass, at 3,475m. A bit early for such a high one, but you should get over reasonably comfortably if you take it steadily.
After rejoining the main Highline at the Washakie and East Fork river valleys, the trail heads up onto high, more open country, where the variety of available trails (you are likely to use the Fremont Trail at some point) enables you to tramp on to cover ground, or make of one many superb side trips into side valleys or up onto a peak or two.
The one not to miss is the Titcomb Basin to the east of the main trail, a huge glacially-scoured hole littered with lakes and surrounded my cliffs and peaks. This can be a day walk from the main trail, but is better as a two-three day detour.
The walk out takes you into valley systems that lead to the final great highlight, the ludicrously beautiful Peak Lake Cirque. From there it is a relatively easy walk out to the Green River Lakes trailhead.
You can camp freely in the Winds, but keep at least 60m from water and trails. No fires.
See Walkopedia friend Ben Duncan's excellent pictures from his Wind River walk here.
Other accounts: share your experiences
Your comments on this walk, your experiences and suggestions, and your photos are very welcome. Where appropriate, you will be credited for your contribution.
Books and Maps
Books on this walk
Climbing and Hiking in the Wind River Mountains (2013) - Joe Kelsey
Hiking in the Rocky Mountains - Lonely Planet
Hiking Wyoming's Wind River Range (1996) - Rod Adkison
Wind River Trails - Finis Mitchell
Rocky Mountain Tree Finder and Rocky Mountain Flower Finder, both by Tom Watts
1:48,000 maps for the northern and southern parts of the Winds are issued by Earthwalk Press.
Best times to walk/weather
Best times to walk
July to September (late July to mid September for best and last uncertain weather and to avoid lying snow and deep streams). A short walking season, as these are high mountains and snow arrives early and melts late.
Generally fine in season, but come fully prepared for unpredictable mountain weather and cold nights.
Both trailheads are accessible by car, down long dirt tracks, starting from some way off from Pinedale in the case of the Highline's trailheads. The problem is how to get your car at the end - but it is said to be easy to hitch to/from the trailheads.
See greatoutdoorshop.com for a Pinedale based shuttle company.
Nearest airports are Jackson Hole and Rock Springs.
Permits are not needed to do most walks in the Winds.
See Walk Summary above.
Possible problems, health, other warnings
- Altitude: will affect you, at least to a degree. Acclimatize appropriately, come prepared to cope, be ready to evacuate people in extreme cases.
- Extreme mountain weather: snow, rain, severe cold and wind are possible at any time of year and the weather can change rapidly. Lightning can occur in afternoons. Come prepared.
- Heat and strong sun. Carry enough water and protect yourself.
- Heights: can be dangerous; not for those who have difficulties with heights.
- Unpleasant animals including mosquitoes, stinging/biting insects and plants. Black Bears can be a problem: come prepared to deal with an encounter and store camp food appropriately. There are plenty of websites with advice on hiking in bear country, and a particularly good one is the US National Parks Service site. Take all appropriate precautions.
- Several rivers need to be crossed on the Highline.
- This is remote country: you will have to carry all your food and other supplies and help will be hard to get if things go wrong.
- Health risks: you will not get prompt medical help of a standard available elsewhere if you become ill. Potential problems include giardia. Come prepared, including getting all appropriate inoculations/medications. Boil all drinking water.
See also the websites in our useful links page for more detailed, and up-to-date, information.
Safety and problems: All walks have inherent risks and problems can arise on any walk. Many of the walks featured on this website involve significant risks and possible problems. This website cannot, and does not purport to, identify all actual or potential risks, dangers and problems that may relate to a walk or a country. Any person who is considering undertaking this walk should do careful research and make their own assessment of the risks, dangers and possible problems involved. They should also go to "Important information" for further important information.
Make sure you have appropriate insurance.
Guided or independent?
We are not currently aware of any guided expeditions here, so you will be on your own! Please suggest any you do know of.
Camping is the only option once in the Winds. You can camp freely in the Winds, but keep at least 60m from water and trails. No fires.
Big Sandy Lodge near the start of the Highline.
Try www.pinedaleonline.com for a selection of Pinedale accommodation.
Hostelbookers usually has a good selection of cheaper-end accommodation.
Other information and tips
Bring light binos.
Useful websites and information
There are many websites with relevant information. Here are some that we think are useful or have been recommended to us.
- Wikipedia: Wind River Range - As usual, a good starting place.
- General Information on the Wind River Mountains
- Wyoming Tourism information
- Continental Divide Trail information
- Article discussing glacial retreat in the Wind River Range
- Shoshone National Forest Federal website
- www.outdoorresearchverticulture.com for the Titcomb Basin
- www.besthike.com/northamerica/rockies/cirque.html for Cirque of the Towers
Other things to do in the area
Northwest USA has a huge variety of great walks. There is likely to be a good walk within range wherever you may be.
Safety and problems: All walks have inherent risks and potential problems, and many of the walks featured on this website involve significant risks, dangers and problems. Problems of any sort can arise on any walk. This website does not purport to identify any (or all) actual or potential risks, dangers and problems that may relate to any particular walk.
Any person who is considering undertaking this walk should do careful research and make their own assessment of the risks, dangers and possible problems involved. They should also go to “Important information” for further important information.
share your experiences
Add your experiences, suggestions and photos. We would be delighted to receive your writing and ideas (which will be attributed appropriately where published).
Anyone planning an expedition to this place should see further important information about this walk.
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